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Find a Site

Many communities begin the development process with a site already identified, such as surplus housing authority land, or a municipal site that has been purchased or acquired through tax title. If it is necessary to purchase land, research on recent land transactions will provide information about current pricing for land that is appropriate for residential development. The following steps are recommended, either for communities that are seeking to acquire a particular site or building, or for communities that are evaluating multiple municipal sites to determine which is most appropriate:

Establish site criteria

Use the information gathered about community housing needs (as outlined in Assessing Needs) as a guide to what would make a good site for housing. Site criteria can include whatever qualities are desired for a particular project. For example:

  • access to utilities, public sewer, and water
  • ability to accommodate the preferred building type and number of units
  • proximity to an established residential area
  • location in areas that are not environmentally sensitive
  • convenience of public transportation
  • proximity to employers
  • proximity to services such as shopping and schools cost
Identify a site

Research and identify land that is currently on the market or municipally owned. Your community’s planning or community development department, and local housing authority, are good sources for site information. Drive around the area, and research underutilized or vacant lots by going to the town's planning department or assessor's office. Many communities have assessor's information online. If there is no available municipal land, other resources worth pursuing include:

  • state-owned surplus land disposed of through the Division of Capital Asset Managers (DCAM)
  • requests for proposals for disposition of a parcel by a federal, state, or municipal agency
  • tax title land owned by the public entity
  • newspaper ads and/or the internet for brokers and foreclosure notices
  • lenders with real estate owned (REO) properties
Land purchase: Obtaining site control

If there is no existing town-owned land appropriate for development, it may be necessary to purchase land. If the value of this land exceeds $35,000, the acquisition and disposition of the property by a public entity, is subject to the provisions of Chapter 30B of the Massachusetts General Laws, the Uniform Procurement Act, which is the state law that covers all procurement for public entities. The link in the box below provides additional information and resources on the Uniform Procurement Act.

Secure governing body approval for disposition or acquisition

In addition to complying with M.G.L. Ch. 30B for acquiring or disposing of a site, communities also need to comply with state laws regarding approval for the acquisition or disposition of property. In the case of disposition of town land, this typically involves a vote of the Board of Selectmen to declare land surplus and then a vote of town meeting. For the acquisition of property, there is typically a vote of town meeting. In cities, the city council oversees the purchase or disposition of land. In communities with municipal housing trusts, the trust by-laws should detail this process. We recommend consultation with town or city officials to understand the process in your community.

Initial development concept

After the housing needs and market have been evaluated and a site identified, an optimum scheme should be identified. This plan will include an outline of who is to be served by the housing, the quantity and type of housing, and the unit sizes (i.e., number of bedrooms). This is preliminary, as the final determination will be based on factors such as the proposed site’s physical capacity, market conditions, the availability of financing, and the character of the neighborhood and surroundings. The development concept will change throughout the pre-development process. It will be influenced and adjusted based on site conditions, available project financing, abutter concerns, etc. The development concept is a starting point, not a finished product.